With just a month to the general elections, political Twitter has got most mainstream politicians mired in controversies.
Conversation around #Election2018 — a hashtag which has earned over five million impressions on Twitter within a week — is dominated by speculation about declaration of assets and liabilities in the nomination papers filed by aspiring candidates.
The scrutiny process, it turns out, has invited a lot more conjecture than expected with politicians revealing’ undisclosed’ aspects of their personal lives, making it clear that the voters are all for transparency and checks and balances.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader and former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique was among the first politicians to be in deep waters on social media after he reportedly admitted to his second marriage in his nomination papers.
Foreign assets, dual nationalities, financial assets, bullet proof cars and even second wives are being declared on electoral nomination papers; this is what the article 62,63 are meant to deliver to the voters; transparency, fairness, checks and balances.
Though the leader had not confessed to polygamy when the rumours first swirled regarding his second marriage in 2016 but the election scrutiny process put him in a tough spot, causing him to disclose the relationship with his second wife, Shafiq Hira.
Following the disclosure, reports were circulated that Rafique’s first wife Ghazala Saad had withdrawn her nomination papers for NA-131.
Fortunately for Rafique, the hype surrounding the matter was short-lived as the ever controversial Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Aamir Liaquat Hussain stole the limelight on Twitter and if social media rumours were to be believed, he had tied the knot with a lady associated with the media industry. However, contrary to social media reports, the televangelist political leader made no such disclosure to the Election Commission of Pakistan regarding his alleged second marriage.
Unlike previous elections, #GE2018 is unrelenting towards politicians and Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal-Bhutto Zardari has witnessed that well.
A perusal of his statement of assets submitted with his nomination papers shows that the young Zardari has around Rs50m cash in hand and his bank accounts hold merely Rs13.86m, including Rs1,000 in Sindh Bank’s Larkana branch. He does not own any vehicle.
But the most astonishing of all details provided at the time of filing nomination papers for NA-200 Larkana, reveal the value of Bilawal House in Clifton, Karachi, at only Rs3m!
The understated estimate soon became a butt of jokes on Twitter. “Bilawal house is for 30 lac? I am placing an open offer, 60 lac mai Soda kar lain?”, remarked stand-up comedian Shafaat Ali.
The scale of conjecture reached peak traffic across social media, convincing the party to release an official statement in response to the objections raised.
“We have noticed that a lot is being said regarding PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s asset details. The PPP would like to clarify a few things,” PPP spokesman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said in a statement.
For those questioning how Bilawal House Karachi was worth Rs3m, he referred to Section 116 of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, which reads “all assets [whether purchased or inherited] should be valued at cost”.
Besides envying fabulous health and off-shore properties owned by our Sadiq and Ameen politicians, political Twitter has scrutinised the documents more than the election commission itself.
“Maryam Nawaz is a living proof of the fact that GPA Doesn’t Matter. 46%,” tweeted a user @SirJohnRoe with a picture of Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s University of Punjab degree.
While election discourse online continued to examine nomination papers, @BajiPlease was not happy with its ‘selective accountability’ approach. “Maryam Nawaz owns acres of land and jewellery worth of millions; Asif Zardari six bulletproof vehicles, thousands of acres of land and what they declare is peanuts but our problem is Imran Khan not wearing socks or denouncing feminism,” the user snarked.
Encapsulating the atmosphere of #Election2018, a Twitter account accurately noted: “foreign assets, dual nationalities, financial assets, bullet proof cars and even second wives are being declared on electoral nomination papers; this is what the article 62,63 are meant to deliver to the voters; transparency, fairness, checks and balances.”
Let the scrutiny begin.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2018